From Psychology Benefits Society, a blog from the APA Public Interest Directorate • January 13, 2016
By Sara Buckingham (PhD candidate in Clinical Psychology and Community & Applied Social Psychology at the University of Maryland,Baltimore County)
Like other American families, while Melissa and Rob eagerly anticipated the birth of their second child, they also had to decide how much time they could afford to take off work to care for their newborn. Physicians and psychologists recommend leave time of at least 6–8 weeks because:
Leave benefits children now and later in life. Leave increases the length of time a mother breastfeeds, which brings many benefitsnd is associated with lower rates of infant and child mortality. Having a parent at home during infancy is linked to better cognitive, social-emotional, and motor development, and fewer problem behaviors.
- Leave benefits family relationships. Leave is associated with warmer parent-infant interactions, mothers better understanding child development, and fathers being more involved with their children – even after returning to work.
- Leave benefits parents. Leave is linked to decreased maternal depression and anxiety, and parental mortality, and increased marriage satisfaction and fertility. Paid leave also benefits families financially by alleviating the expense of childcare (Gomby & Pei, 2009).
However, due to a lack of paid family leave, Rob took no leave and Melissa took only 3 weeks, returning to work well before her body had recovered and their infant was ready to be separated from his primary caregivers. Many American families cannot afford to take unpaid leave after the birth of a child. In fact, over one million American families face this choice annually: Roughly one in four American children are born into families who lack the assets to survive at the federal poverty level if the child’s provider(s) takes 3 months of unpaid leave (Wiedrich, Crawford, & Tivol, 2010). And many more struggle to make ends meet when they take off time to care for a loved one.
The U.S. is nearly unique in its failure to require paid family leave, as one of only two countries to not have any laws mandating paid family leave (Addati, Cassirer, & Gilchrist, 2014). The current Family and Medical Leave Act ensures that only employees of large businesses (i.e., those with more than 50 employees within a 75-mile radius) do not lose their jobs when they take time off to care for a newborn; however, employers are not required to pay workers during that time – and nearly 40% of U.S. workers receive no job-protected leave at all. Of a large survey of employers in 2008, only 1/2 offered partially paid leave for mothers, and less than 1/6 did so for fathers (Gomby & Pei, 2009). Lower income workers are even less likely to have access to paid leave (Phillips, 2004).
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